How Many Lives Did She Save Just By Opening Her Mouth?

Rodney Warner, JD
Rodney Warner, JD

Betty Ford, former First Lady, has passed away. She died at the age of 93. Mrs. Ford lead a remarkable life, most notably for her courage, speaking her mind and telling the truth.

In 1974, shortly after her husband became President, Mrs. Ford was treated for breast cancer. It was made public, as was her treatment (mastectomy) and recovery. For many of us going through cancer today, we’re loud and we’re proud. I don’t think that was the case 37 years ago. I think it came as quite a shock to the country the First Lady had a cancerous breast and that it was being removed. It’s been reported that because of the publicity Mrs. Ford brought to breast cancer, thousands of women got, or gave themselves, breast exams.

How many cancer tumors were found, and how many women were saved because tumors were discovered at an early stage, we’ll never know. But Mrs. Ford came out of the closet, onto a very public stage, and broke ground that all subsequent cancer survivors could tread. If the First Lady could openly talk about cancer, surely anyone could. With that openness comes awareness, knowledge and the stigma of having cancer loosens up. More money can be raised, more people can be treated and more lives can be saved.

After her husband lost the 1976 presidential campaign, it became public that Mrs. Ford was being treated for addiction to alcohol and prescription medication. Again, Mrs. Ford was ahead of her time. Although she didn’t recognize she had a problem, after a family “intervention,” she was successfully treated for addiction. Thanks to her fundraising efforts, the Betty Ford Center has been treating people with addiction problems, and their families, since 1982.

Mrs. Ford made the best of a bad situation, came out of the addiction closet, and brought attention to this problem. How many people, especially women, after reading and hearing about Mrs. Ford’s battle with addiction, got treatment for their own problems? How many lives of drug and alcohol addicted people were saved, and how many of their families were able to stay together, we’ll never know.

If you read about Mrs. Ford, you’ll find that all this openness and truth on these issues reflect how she lived her life. Despite being the wife of a Republican President, the leader of the Republican Party, she voiced support for abortion rights and the Equal Rights Amendment. In private, she told her husband, the then President, pardoning President Nixon for the crimes he committed leading to the Watergate scandal, was a bad idea.

Betty Ford opened doors for cancer survivors and those addicted to drugs and alcohol. Not only did she save lives, but improved the lives for all of us dealing with these diseases. She helped us become more honest and truthful about these diseases, to ourselves and to others. Betty Ford showed us that she had cancer and addiction problems, they didn’t have her. She showed us that honesty, truth and courage were the best weapons against the demons we face.

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